State takeover would make NAMA ‘look like a garden party’
Proposals to introduce a new national sex education curriculum without a religious influence could be open to a constitutional challenge, a leading academic has said.
“The State can impose certain things on schools, including such things as a certain minimum level of education,” UCC’s Dr Seán Ó Conaill told The Irish Catholic, “but at the same time, freedom of conscience is protected in terms of religion.”
Dr Ó Conaill’s comments come following a recommendation from the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment that the sex education in Ireland’s schools should be reformed and provided “in an impartial and factual manner that is free of religious ethos”.
In response, Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), said that while the CPSMA would make a submission into any review that took place, the review should produce an age-appropriate curriculum in line with the ethos of both school and parents.
Pointing out that religious rights are enshrined in the Constitution, Mr Mulconry said there would be “constitutional implications” to any attempt to compel a school or teacher to teach a course contrary to its ethos.
“There’s definitely an arguable case around ethos, whether it’s an atheist ethos or a Catholic ethos or whatever – it is protected under the Constitution,” said Dr Ó Conaill.
“It’s definitely an arguable point that schools can protect their ethos: they’re private schools, they are not state-owned or -run schools,” he stressed.
Characterising the debate as a bluffing game between State and Church, Dr Ó Conaill pointed out that in principle the State could respond by threatening to withhold funding from Church-owned schools.
“That’s the State’s trump card, but it’s a huge game of bluff, because can you imagine what would happen,” he said, pointing out that the Church and the Church of Ireland, who between them own and run the vast majority of Ireland’s schools, could respond by closing their schools.
“What would the State do? It can’t just take the land, because that’s constitutionally protected,” he said, continuing. “It would make NAMA look like a garden party.
“The State bluffs a lot, but the State has franchised out education for its entire existence.”